Conservative MP Garnett Genuis says after the pair of deadly attacks in New Zealand he will no longer host an event on Parliament Hill featuring a guest speaker who drew sharp criticism from the Muslim community.
Muslim advocates said the guest speaker, Baroness Caroline Cox, promotes hate against Muslims, and she has also been accused of supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Mr. Genuis said in a statement posted on Twitter that Lady Cox’s views and humanitarian work on international religious freedom “have been the subject of some debate, and perhaps some confusion, in the lead-up to an event with her about women’s rights, democracy, and freedom.”
“Organizers, including me, have been in the process of engaging members of the public in dialogue about this event, and about Baroness Cox’s work and legacy,” he said.
“With that said, our friends in the Muslim community are now reeling from one of the most horrific and appalling terrorist attacks to ever target their community. Out of respect for them, now is not the time for a conversation that could [be] misconstrued to take place on Parliament Hill. As such, the event will not be proceeding as planned.”
Amira Elghawaby of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network said she is relieved it has been cancelled, but said it should not have been scheduled in the first place.
“I know many people had reached out to Conservative Party, to Garnett, to talk to him about this event and he was not really listening, and I’m relieved that he finally heard from the community and actually took their concerns to heart,” Ms. Elghawaby said.
“But why did it take the death of 49 people for him to understand that the way communities are feeling right now, even before this tragedy, that we are being maligned and scapegoated and stereotyped by various groups and this Baroness was part of those who are promoting fear, bigotry and racism against our communities. Regardless of what happened in New Zealand, this event should never have been scheduled in the first place,” she said.
Ihsaan Gardee, the executive director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims, said his organization wrote to both Mr. Genuis and co-host Conservative MP Kelly Block to ask them to reconsider holding the event, calling it “deeply concerning” when politicians associate with figures who espouse Islamophobic views, lending legitimacy to them.
Liberal MP Omar Alghabra told The Globe and Mail he is “relieved” by Mr. Genuis’s decision. Mr. Alghabra said he listened to audio recordings of Lady Cox espousing conspiratorial messages about Muslims trying to achieve global domination.
“It instills suspicions and hate against an identifiable group. It’s telling people who are listening to her ‘don’t trust Muslims.’" Mr. Alghabra said he read that Lady Cox visited Syria and denied that Mr. al-Assad used chemical weapons. “Everyone knows he is a violent dictator,” he said.
According to Lady Cox’s website, she visited Syria in 2018, writing that the day before her trip, the United States, the U.K. and France announced their intention to launch missile attacks “in response to the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government in Dhouma," and she warned against a regime change in Syria.
In 2010, far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders screened his anti-Islam film at the House of Lords at the invitation of Lady Cox and one of her colleagues.
Mr. Alghabra said he pleaded politely, but firmly, with Mr. Genuis to withdraw from the event, and until now, he refused.
Mr. Genuis was not the only Conservative to shift positions on Friday after criticism. Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer issued a lengthy statement about the New Zealand terrorism attacks after initially tweeting messages that did not mention that the victims were Muslim.
Late Thursday, Mr. Scheer tweeted, “Freedom has come under attack in New Zealand as peaceful worshippers are targeted in a despicable act of evil. All people must be able to practice their faith freely and without fear. … There are no words strong enough to condemn this kind of vile hatred. I am praying for peace for the families of those lost and recovery for those injured."
That response was met by swift criticism online, including from Andrew MacDougall, a former spokesman for prime minister Stephen Harper, who tweeted, “Delete and try again. Name the place of worship. Name their religion. Put your arms around them. Condemn the specific pathology that drove their killer(s).”
Ms. Elghawaby said some people wonder why Mr. Scheer didn’t call out the Islamophobia underlying the attack immediately. She said people are looking to the Conservative Party and wondering: “Is this party going to stand up for the rights of everyone?"
By Friday afternoon, Mr. Scheer issued a new statement, saying he wished to express “both my deep sadness at the tragic loss of innocent life and my profound condemnation of this cowardly and hateful attack on the Muslim community.
“Houses of worship, like the two mosques attacked last night, should be places where all people can meet freely and without fear. We stand with our Muslim brothers and sisters to ensure that they remain this way. We must condemn, in the strongest terms possible, the type of extreme and vile hatred that motivated this despicable act of evil.”